Kevin Kelly on the end of anonymity

Over on his Google+ account, Kevin Kelly says:

The major impact of the Petraeus affair has nothing to do with the military, sex, or celebrity -- it is that there is no such thing as anonymous, and that the US government is able to access internet and credit card records without warrants, just because they ask to. Your digital life is not private from the government, ever; therefore, your life is not private. Read the details in this important reporting by +Andrew Leonard:

"[This] debacle confirms something that some privacy experts have been warning about for years: Government surveillance of ordinary citizens is now cheaper and easier than ever before. Without needing to go before a judge, the government can gather vast amounts of information about us with minimal expenditure of manpower. We used to be able to count on a certain amount of privacy protection simply because invading our privacy was hard work. That is no longer the case. Our always-on, Internet-connected, cellphone-enabled lives are an open door to Big Brother."

I have nothing to hide; I am just saying anonymous is not anonymous.

Anonymous is Not


  1. I haven’t followed this particular debacle to any great extent, and I realize that the privacy aspects of this debacle are as dire as claimed, but….

    Don’t most government positions like this explicitly allow for the government to access internet and credit card records without warrants?

    In other words, don’t they give up much of their privacy because of the nature of their job, and because it’s a requirement of the job? Shouldn’t someone in a high-level position with access to high-level secrets, etc, be subject to extra-ordinary surveillance and security? I would think that would be the case, so that a warrant wouldn’t be needed to access their email and other records, whether they were explicitly work-related or not.

    1. “Shouldn’t someone in a high-level position with access to high-level secrets, etc, be subject to extra-ordinary surveillance and security?”

      I imagine they are. That that system failed. Mostly because of a lack of commitment to it by the generals. 

  2. This is my main takeway from the Petraeus thing as well (I mean really, another powerful/famous married man attracts groupies. Yawn).

    Shirtless FBI Guy started the ball rolling on a complaint from a friend — seeing as the FBI is a Government Agency, sending a formal request to Google would require paperwork of some sort, and one’s boss would no doubt have to be involved.  Certainly a couple levels of FBI brass would be involved if they had to get a warrent or subpoena.   

    Obviously this guy was able to do this without anyone else calling him on it,  which implies that Google has provided the FBI with a self-service portal that makes it possible to grab tens of thousands of pages of emails from the Gmail accounts of 4 private citizens without anyone really overseeing things.

    I can understand that Google is required to cooperate with criminal investigations, but nobody can reasonably make the claim that mom’s snarky emails about Aunt Suzie’s cankles are probable cause to dump every one of our family emails ever.

    This is a powerful reason to dump Gmail pronto, and a great opportunity for a company who can build a secure alternative.

    1. “Certainly a couple levels of FBI brass would be involved if they had to get a warrent or subpoena.”

      On television. yes. On Sept 10, yes.

      For the last 11 years, no.

      1. I’m not even thinking about the legal framework, I’m just figuring that in general accessing emails stored by a third party would seem to require talking to someone else at the office unless you’ve basically given everyone a desktop app to access everyone’s email ever for any reason.    

        This kind of reminds me of the whole Bradley Manning fiasco — how does a PfC have need-to-know to justify access to all those State Department documents in the first place?

        1. “unless you’ve basically given everyone a desktop app to access everyone’s email ever for any reason. “

          And you’re sure that hasn’t happened?

          I’m not sure you’d have to give it to everyone for it to be a threat to liberty.

          Your style of reductio ad absurdum in the face of actual evidence also reminds me of the BM fiasco. 

        2. Your sense of the Bradley Manning situation is based in ignorance, sorry. The documents were located on SIPRNet, to which 2-3 million people have/had access. It was a security policy from his superiors that allowed him unfettered access. 

          It’s like asking why an elderly person or child has the ability to go 100+ MPH. Because that’s how fast cars can go. Who told them how to go that fast? The speedometer and accelerator pedal.

    2. No warrant or subpoena is necessary for content hosted by third-parties after 6mos. Now, count back how long it’s been since Shirtless first tried to drop the dime. You may be pleasantly surprised!

    3. It’s a mistake to think that dumping gmail will do anything to help.  Email is simply not a secure medium. No matter who your provider is, email is discoverable by its basic design.
      If Google has provided a portal, it’s a safe bet that at least all the other large providers have as well.  Perhaps moving to hushmail or some such thing would help.  But even if you are running your own server, anyone who has a router along the path is going to be able to grab your data, so in the end it’s kind of pointless.  If you want to retain secrets, don’t use email.

      1. I don’t know how many of them are still operating, but we wrote anonymous remailers back in the 90s for good reasons.

  3. There’s an article on right now that indicates that some of our elected representatives just realized how easily their email can be accessed (no warrant necessary on old email) and that there may be privacy protections in the works. Of course the cynic in me makes me think they’ll create a law that protects government officials but still allows unlimited snooping on us peons.

  4. Alright, then please explain to me why they (whoever THEY are, FBI, CIA, NSA, whatever…) didn’t caught that bloke who ruined Amanda Todd’s life? Huh? I mean, that guy made an entire website, for fuck’s sake! He should’ve left some trails.

    1.  Probably because they don’t care. That douchecanoe wasn’t sharing state secrets, criticizing the government, or downloading movies, so they can’t be bothered to track him down.

    2. Is Amanda Todd close with any FBI agents? There you have it.

      For whatever reason, Amanda Todd is unable to bypass the local police department and use the FBI directly as her personal guard.

  5. To some extent this depends on who the government is asking. I have a friend who runs an ISP, and they require a court order, always. He says that every time they say this to law enforcement, they are met with surprise, because apparently pretty much every other ISP just hands over records any time they’re asked. This is good information to have if you are planning a privacy strategy.

  6. Moore’s Law: The number of transistors on an IC doubles every two years.
    Metcalfe’s Law: The power of the network goes up by the square of the number of nodes.
    McNealy’s Law: You have no privacy. Get over it.

    Somebody should ask Scott McNealy what he thinks about l’affaire Petraeus.

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